Attending a Saturday night game at the Oakland Coliseum provided some nice relief from the July heat.
It was about 95 degrees on my patio when we left for the game. Game time temperature was in the low 70s and it dropped about 10 degrees over the course of 9 innings; a typical Bay Area summer night. The weather seems to have cooled the bats of the newest version of the Swingin’ A’s. The Mariners walloped the A’s and rookie pitcher Jarrod Parker, 7-1.
The crowd of more than 16,000 was about twice as big as it would have been if it hadn’t been for the A’s annual Beer Fest. Whatever it takes, right? The Beer Fest featured “Big Hurt Beer,” the brainchild of former Chicago White Sox slugger (and in 2006 Oakland A’s slugger) Frank “Big Hurt” Thomas.
Thomas was also on hand to present the Athletics’ lone All Star, Ryan Cook, with his official All Star Game batting practice jersey. Cook is a closer, and I doubt they’re going to make an AL closer take batting practice. But it’s a nice souvenir for him, and the moment gave the fans a chance to acknowledge his selection. Except for the beer and Ryan Cook, there wasn’t much for A’s fans to cheer about.
A’s games are still relatively affordable, so as usual, there were a lot of kids in the stands. Most of them had gear on, and many of them brought their mitts. After a while I started thinking about what a game like this might mean to a young fan going to his or her first game.When it comes right down to it, there was plenty about the game that a baseball fan would love.
As the game went on I began to imagine a conversation 30 years hence between a couple of friends, one of whom experienced last night’s A’s/Mariners contest as his first big league baseball game. Here’s that conversation as they sit around in their 2032 man cave, pounding a couple of “Big Hurts.”
“You remember the first game you ever went to?”
“Who’d you see?”
“The A’s. My dad was an A’s fan.”
“An A’s fan? I thought you guys lived in Berkeley. Were you on vacation or something?”
“No. They were still playing in Oakland back then, so we hopped on BART and headed to the ballpark.”
“Who were they playing?”
“The Mariners. There was a beer fest. That was a big draw for the old man.”
“The Mariners. Ouch! Sixty five years and still no World Series appearance. They’re going to catch the Cubs someday.”
“Only if the Cubs ever actually go to the Series.”
“You remember who won?”
“Absolutely. Mariners, seven to one.”
“Sounds like the beer fest turned into a snooze fest.”
“No way. There was plenty to see, and I’ll never forget it.”
“Dude, like what?”
“Like Ichiro. I saw Ichiro get a single, beat out an infield hit, and steal a bag. One of the all-time greats, slapping the ball around and running the bases, doing what made him great. It was toward the end of his career, but I swear, to this day I haven’t seen anyone faster.”
“Is that all? Ichiro runs a little?”
“I saw Josh Reddick just as his career was getting off the ground. He hit a homer in the bottom of the first, his 20th of the year. And he made a phenomenal diving catch on an Ichiro fly ball to right center that was as spectacular as anything I’ve ever seen. He was a utility guy until the A’s gave him a shot at starting. The rest, as they say, is history.”
“But your guys lost, right?”
“Yeah, but there was still plenty to see. Seattle’s pitcher, a guy from California named Jason Vargas, pitched a complete game.”
“You saw a guy pitch a complete game?”
“There were more of them back then.”
“I’ve never seen one live.”
“And the Mariners turned four double plays. I’ve seen college infielders turn double plays, and I’ve seen minor-leaguers do it, but there’s nothing that compares to the speed and grace of a big league double play. And that night, the first big league game I ever went to, I saw four of ‘em. Two were turned with Oakland’s fastest guys on base.”
“Who was that?”
“A couple of guys named Coco Crisp and Jemile Weeks.”
“Coco Crisp? Seriously? Are you making that name up?”
“Nope, and he was a pretty good ballplayer too. Come to think of it, he was in on another play I’ll never forget from that game. He misplayed a line drive to center. Tried to dive for it, but came up short and the ball went to the wall. The guy who hit it could have had an inside the park home run if the third base coach had sent him. He ended up on third. Nothing like a triple to bring the crowd to its feet, but an inside the park home run would’ve been something to see.”
“Triples are the best, no doubt about it.”
“Besides Reddick, the A’s had some big sticks in the lineup. A Cuban defector named Yoenis Cespedas clobbered the ball a couple of times, but the ball didn’t carry well at night in Oakland.”
“A defector? What?”
“Some political deal. Back before Havana had a big league club, guys had to escape or something to play in MLB. I read about it in high school, but it’s ancient history.”
“Put on your iGlasses, open up your iBrary and check it out for yourself if you don’t believe me.”
“Just sounds weird, that’s all.”
“I saw Chris Carter that night, too, just as he was starting to come into his own. He was playing first base, and when Ichiro got on first my dad pointed out that a guy just breaking into the bigs was holding a guy on who was probably headed for Cooperstown. I remember him saying the history and the continuity of the game were right there in that moment. I didn’t get it at first, but later on when I started to get more of a feel for the game, I knew he was right. My old man loved beer and baseball. A true patriot.”
“Wow! That was some night.”
“Yep. A’s lost 7-1, but there was plenty to see. It was my first big league ball game, and I’ll never forget it.”
“Toss me a cold Big Hurt, will ya?”
As Mike Damergis succinctly and accurately wrote in his recent article about Reggie Jackson’s most recent brush with notoriety, “[I]n baseball, yesterday is as important as today.” And it always will be.
Jonathan Dyer has been a baseball fanatic since playing Little League in the 1960s, and he’s been following the Oakland A’s since moving to the Bay Area in the late 1970s when he watched Rickey Henderson play for Billy Martin. Dyer, the author of three novels, now brings his long-term perspective to writing about baseball, connecting the modern game to its historic context. You may email Jonathan directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @dyer_jp. You can follow his progress on two new novels he’s writing at www.booksbyjonathandyer.webs.com